This morning, Capt. Yusof Ahmad posted an interesting story in his blog, The Ancient Mariner, about the Vietnamese refugee ship Hai Hong that arrived in Malaysia in 1978. I was in secondary school back then and remember this incident vaguely. I commented in the Captain's blog that his post reminded me of an old school friend because she had the nickname of Hai Hong.
But before I reveal who actually Hai Hong was, I would just like to recap a reply that I made some time back to Jabishah, a regular commenter in this blog. Jabishah remarked that she feels uncomfortable calling me Oldstock. I replied that she need not worry about calling me by that name because it was coined by friends a long time ago when I was at boarding school in MRSM Kuantan.
For those of you who have spent time in boarding school, I'm sure you have come across friends who have weird, interesting and amusing nicknames. Perhaps, like me, you have one yourself. To an outsider, some of these nicknames may appear demeaning but if you do not take offense or feel slighted, then such names are just part of a growing-up phase. No doubt, some people get stuck with their nicknames right up till adulthood.
There were so many interesting nicknames when I was in school, and this was not limited to boys only. Even the girls have nicknames that are known throughout the school. The reason for most nicknames are easily understood because they usually refer to physical appearance. Rosli Mamak, for instance, had a dark complexion. Norazharuddin Jepun could pass off as a Japanese without much problem. Bakar Buta is not really blind but he has eyes that are open as very thin slits. Raihan Buncit was slightly rounded around the waistline.
There were however, some guys whose nicknames really defy explanation. I have friends who are called Nyamuk, Konteng, Bull, Monggol, Batak and Mat Bunian. I had female schoolmates who were called Cone and Sergeant. There was this story about one of the Biology teachers who overheard the boys calling a friend by the name of Badang, a character in Malay folklore that gained superhuman strength after eating the vomit of a jinn. The teacher asked who the owner of this nickname was, and when Badang identified himself, she let out a gasp in disbelief. You see, Badang was actually a thin and spindly guy... not the tough chap that she first assumed. I was told the whole class had a good laugh and Badang did not feel the least offended.
Back then, one of the activity that the Freshie Week Committee conducted was a `know your seniors' game. The task involved all Form 1 newcomers to identify some seniors based on a list that had two columns of forty or so nicknames, one each for male and female. It's not enough for the freshies just to write the seniors real name, they had to get their signatures as well. Some seniors purposely made it difficult by not owning up or simply glaring back at the juniors when asked. Can you imagine a timid 13-year old boy braving himself to approach a senior student to ask, `Abang ni nama Buncit ye?'. Buncit could have glared back and the freshie would probably shed tears... luckily for them Buncit is a kind-hearted soul. Once the owner of a nickname is identified, you could see a crowd of the freshies gathering around the senior asking for his or her signature, not unlike a superstar signing autographs for his/her fans.
And now back to story of a former classmate who was called Hai Hong. I really don't know how she got that name and neither had I the opportunity to ask. I attach below, an extract of the note she wrote in my autograph book, the evening after we had sat for our Geography paper during the MCE exams of 1979. That was almost 30 years ago...
To the lovely Norhayati Shaharuddin from Gopeng Perak, may you and your family be in the best of health, wherever you are. Thanks Hai Hong, for being a friend.